Virtual Desktops are the Gateway to the Cloud

Steve Kaplan, VP Virtualization and Cloud

The following is one of a collection of articles that addresses strategy around hybrid cloud architecture and IT as a Service.

Organizations frequently evaluate virtual desktops as replacements for physical units. They expect to achieve the same type of results as when virtualizing servers. But unlike servers, virtualizing desktops often has a less obvious ROI and directly impacts hundreds or thousands of users with differing expectations and perceptions.

A virtual desktop deployment without a strategic approach is more difficult to justify, and, even if implemented, more likely to stall out at the pilot phase or fail completely. It also misses the opportunity for accelerating a successful transition to cloud computing.

On the other hand, deploying a desktop-as-a-service strategy can help shift organizational mindsets to incorporating Cloud as part of the user experience and enable efficient, reliable and secure consumption of both Cloud and Windows applications.

Only considering the CapEx cost of a virtual desktop versus a physical PC significantly understates its value.  Virtual desktops, in addition to potentially slashing OpEx costs over a number of years, add much greater capabilities and options around initiatives such as BYOD, disaster recovery, management and security. Additionally, the relentless increase in VM density driven by Moore’s Law makes it increasingly financially beneficial to virtualize the desktops and move them to the data center.

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that we can pack into a chip doubles roughly every two years. On the edge, this added power doesn’t buy us much – PCs already have more capabilities than most users will ever utilize. In the data center, though, we still deal with very expensive CPU, memory, storage & space/power.

By doubling the number of VMs we can host on a server every couple of years, we slash the costs of moving vDTs to the data center. In fact, it’s really better than this. Constant innovations such as VMware Storage Accelerator & Atlantis ILIO augment Moore’s Law, accelerating increases in virtual machine density.

Even an organization facing a situation where VDI is not going to save them much (if any) in terms of CapEx, or even OpEx, still should consider transitioning to virtual desktops rather than continuing to invest monies in upgrading legacy PCs and laptops – knowing that the economics will soon be overwhelmingly in favor of the virtual desktop environment.



Virtual desktops directly impact hundreds or thousands of users, each with individual expectations and perceptions. Just one unhappy user can kill a huge VDI project. A poorly designed VDI pilot is likely to spell the kiss of death.

To be successful, an enterprise VDI project demands a strategic approach. Identifying business objectives and use cases, assessing environmental and user characteristics, and rigorous design and planning are all required.

The user experience and expectations must be both planned for, and managed. Users don’t want change, but they do want USB devices, dual monitors and multimedia. VDI’s close approximation to a physical desktop eases their concerns as long as they are educated about the new direction beforehand and understand why the organization has chosen this strategic direction.

When implemented with carefully managed pilots, users quickly appreciate the ubiquitous desktop access enabled by VDI. When installed in non-persistent mode, they receive a pristine desktop each time they log in which is then vaporized when logging out. This eliminates performance degradation due to viruses, spyware and user installed toolbars or configuration changes.

A strategically designed VDI deployment also quickly wins over administrators who gain significant advantages around management and security. Corporate information – rather than maintained on hard drives of PCs and remote office servers throughout the enterprise – is all kept in the data center. Skilled IT administrators oversee physical security, IDS/IPS, firewalls, perimeter and multi-tier AV and malware protection, SIEM tools, etc.

VDI enables a well managed desktop environment without purchasing and operating an edge-based desktop management application. Virtual desktops slash the time required for administrative tasks such as desktop imaging, hardware configuration, patching, upgrading, and so on.

A larger organization often has hundreds or thousands of apps used by only a few people, and a handful of apps used by everyone. VDI, when deployed with layering technologies or in conjunction with application virtualization, is very effective in handling this “long tail” scenario.



Virtual desktops (vDTs) are not typically perceived as harbingers of Cloud Computing. For one thing, Microsoft makes it challenging for Cloud providers to host them by not allowing either SPLA licensing or multi-tenancy hardware. And cloud computing frameworks generally do not include virtual desktops – even VMware vCloud Director lacks integration with VMware View. Nonetheless, virtual desktop deployments are increasingly acting as gateways to cloud computing due to several factors:

              • Virtual desktops are already cloud-like

              • Virtual desktops lead to cloud expectations

              • Virtual desktops enable consolidation of remote office infrastructures

              • Virtual desktops are hot

Virtual Desktops are Already Cloud-Like

Virtual desktops may not be integrated today into the leading cloud frameworks, but they nonetheless exhibit many attributes of cloud computing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides five characteristics of cloud computing:

                •  On-demand self-service

                •  Broad network access

                •  Resource pooling

                •  Rapid elasticity

                •  Measured servic

On-Demand Self-Service

In a cloud computing environment, business units specify the applications they need along with SLAs around performance and security – and the required virtual servers are automatically spun up along with the necessary supporting storage, network and security components. Everything is monitored, metered and charged back to the business unit based upon resource utilization.

The mainline private cloud environments do not yet allow for self-service provisioning of virtual desktops, but they certainly can be deployed rapidly and on demand from resource pools. Users access their desktops without awareness or concern where the actual virtual machines are hosted.

Broad Network Access

Virtual desktops introduce users to the idea of accessing compute resources from a remote pool and the benefits that this cloud attribute enables. They now can run their applications and access their data from nearly any device at any location with network or Internet connectivity.

Resource Pooling

While the private cloud automated framework capabilities are not generally available for virtual desktops, the concept of resource pooling extends to both desktops as well as servers. The act of transitioning from physical desktops to vDTs consequently demands an IT staff shift to a cloud-like mindset. Centralized vDT administration enables improved security and regulatory compliance without encrypting data on local devices. The vDTs are more easily managed and can be replicated off-site for disaster recovery purposes.

Rapid Elasticity

As with virtual servers, virtual desktops can be spun up or down extremely quickly, enabling an organization to rapidly accommodate changes in demand. For example, a business unit needing desktops for 50 new employees can have the virtual machines provisioned instantly rather than making the employees wait days or weeks for the physical versions to be requisitioned, delivered and deployed. Additionally, downtime due to hardware maintenance or troubleshooting issues is significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.

Virtual desktops, by their nature, also enable much faster deployment and upgrades of applica- tions. The IT staff no longer need be concerned with the specific device, drivers or OS. They simply add the desired application or upgrade to the corporate virtual desktop (and the application itself can be virtualized utilizing products such as VMware ThinApp), and then users instantly have access to it regardless of location or device.

Measured Service

While most cloud metering tools such as VMware Chargeback do not specifically address vDTs, relatively easy modifications should enable this capability. In this way, organizations can charge business units for actual resources consumed, thereby helping drive more responsible usage patterns.

Virtual Desktops Extend the Legacy Desktop to the Cloud

The traditional internally hosted Windows-based desktop makes it difficult for the IT staff to manage the user experience and ensure conformance with corporate security guidelines when users access Web-based applications. In many organizations, employees may access Software-as-a-Service applications without IT oversight or even awareness. They may use Web-based programs such as DropBox for sharing sensitive corporate information.

While certainly not a panacea for managing cloud-based applications, virtual desktops help shift the user and IT mindsets to integrate Cloud as part of the user experience including requirements for enterprise reliability and security. This is particularly true for organizations embracing VMware’s expanded perception of the desktop. VMware maintains that the desktop should extend to the cloud, and considers the traditional Windows-based desktop as “legacy.” Under the VMware scenario, IT provides users with secure and high quality consumption of both cloud and Windows applications.

Virtual Desktops Enable Consolidation of Remote Office Infrastructures

Remote offices often have their own servers, back-ups and UPS devices that do not easily integrate into cloud computing frameworks. The environments also may lead to a “step children” syndrome where remote office users end up get ting hand-me-down equipment from headquarters and must make due with inadequate disaster recovery plans and limited IT support.

A virtual desktop infrastructure often enables consolidating the remote office servers and supporting infrastructures back to the data center as part of the virtual architecture since the users are only seeing screen prints of their virtual desktops which are residing in the data center. Now the remote office users enjoy the same access as corporate users to the data center equipment, backup, DR and sophisticated IT staff.

Virtual Desktops are Hot

A surprisingly high number of organizations are piloting or considering VDI, many of which have not completed virtualizing their data centers let alone implemented cloud computing. The VDI discussions can serve as door-openers to consider a shift to an enterprise cloud computing strategy.



Rather than simply replacing PCs, virtual desktops should be deployed as part of a Desktop-as-a-Service strategy complete with identifying business objectives and use cases, assessing environmental and user characteristics, and rigorous design and planning.

IT can leverage the initial VDI interest to fund DaaS on an enterprise scale, thereby laying the foundation for transitioning to a broader ITaaS architecture. A DaaS strategy provides typical Cloud benefits such as financial savings, faster time-to-market and scalability. It also slashes the time sink of infrastructure planning, administration and troubleshooting. The IT staff can instead work with technology to make their organizations more innovative, efficient and competitive.

VIRTUAL DESKTOPS ARE THE GATEWAY TO THE CLOUD is one in a series of articles that create the conversation of “High Availability in a Hybrid World.” These assets are meant as a resource for IT decision makers who are faced with the challenge of creating either a hybrid cloud or IT as a Service strategy.



Hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community or public) that remain unique entities but are bound together, offering the benefits of multiple deployment models.  By utilizing hybrid cloud architecture, companies and individuals are able to obtain degrees of fault tolerance combined with locally immediate usability without dependency on internet connectivity. Hybrid cloud architecture requires both on-premises resources and off-site (remote) server-based cloud infrastructure. Hybrid cloud provides the flexibility of in-house applications with the fault tolerance and scalability of cloud based services.



(ITaaS) is an operational model where the IT organization of an enterprise is run much like business, acting and operating as an internal service provider. In this model, IT simplifies and encourages service consumption, provides improved financial transparency for IT services, and partners more closely with lines of business. This type of IT transformation is business focused rather than cost focused, leading directly to improved levels of business agility. Typically, ITaaS is enabled by technology models such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), all of which are part of cloud computing.


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